This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.
Today while I am writing this post, high school students are having their chorus class. “The weary night never worries me,” a verse from a harvest folk song is filling the office with almost adult voices.
Rather appropriate, as I wanted to write about how fear is not the dominant force on a Waldorf campus. In fact, sitting down in a Waldorf classroom, the sensation most people have is one of peace and relaxation. It is possible to leave the everyday world of fear behind and parents experience that peace—often in relationship to their own educational experience, when they sit for a moment and a ponder where their children spends their days.
The Waldorf classroom is serene in its lack of plastic, bright colors, and technology. The classroom is simple, but profound in its simplicity. The presence of creativity vibrates on the walls in the watercolor painting, on the shelves with wooden toys and flutes, and in the baskets of wooden colored pencils waiting to be used.
As a parent, as a citizen in the world—to be sure, it feels like a scary time, the fear is real . Technology—though wonderful and helpful—is changing so rapidly, that life feels like an earthquake: a constant shifting of the ground before one has had time to recover. 9/11 and threats of terrorism haunt the psyche, while worries of economic hardship still abound as the after effects of the Great Recession still continue to play out.
And in education, the fear being generated and consumed has parents running after test scores and a notion that life’s success can and will be determined by the grades dispensed beginning in kindergarten and even in preschool. (This falls into the category of great irony when considering that so many of our greatest thinkers, inventors, and political leaders have failed school or even dropped out—and some were even late readers.)
But in a Waldorf classroom all that is invisible. Fear is left at the door, erased.
The founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, (see a biography in full text: A Scientist of the Invisible or on Amazon), intrinsically understood fear, as the world was in another scary moment in history, when Steiner developed the first Waldorf School in Stuggart, Germany after World War I and in the midst of the Second Industrial Revolution.
Steiner’s understanding of what the human spirit needed to flourish is everywhere visible in the Waldorf classroom, which is not random in its design. In fact, Waldorf classrooms around the world are very much the same, following principles put forth by Steiner. Parents and students will feel a serene sense of place whether they are in Maine, New Mexico or Japan.
A Waldorf education can help cut through the fear, which is often most prominent in all things related to child rearing. At no other time in the recent human history of the United States has the mass marketing of fear to save children from every possible hardship been so readily and steadily conceived and exploited; nor the ongoing news feed of all the dangers in the world that can hurt children been read by so many.
Erasing this onslaught of fear is actively pursued on our Waldorf campus and in all the small particulars that are requested from parents like not using cell phones at pick up to instead focus on one’s child who has just had a “wide-eyed experience” and may want to share that experience.
Anecdotal parent observation can articulate best the happiness and peace of a child who wants to go to school—when getting a child ready and off to school is not an issue because they can’t wait to get there. These things say a great deal about a Waldorf education and the way in which fear is kept at bay beyond our Waldorf School.
As my daughter told me at when I picked her up on the first day of school this year and asked how her day went, “Mom, it was over so quick. I was saying the morning verse and then it was time to go. It was so much fun. I really don’t want to come home.”